Slideshow: Windows 8 Refresh your PC tool in action

Troubleshoot tile

This gallery is also available as a post in the Windows and Office Blog.

While Microsoft went to every effort to ensure that Windows 8 is a solid operating system, sometimes your system can become unstable. Perhaps you have recently recovered from a nasty virus infection, or maybe you installed an incompatible software application, or possibly a wiggy device driver. You could have even installed an update patch that for some reason left your system behaving erratically. Whatever the cause, Windows 8 has several tools that you can use to revise an unstable system.

Of course, in this type of situation, your first line of defense is to use System Restore to put your system back into the state that it was in when the last restore point was created. However, there could be any number of reasons why this would not result in an effect resolution. In the past, you would have had no choice but to restore your system from a backup or totally reinstall the operating system from scratch.

Refresh your PC

With Windows 8, you have a new intermediary solution called Refresh your PC, which you can access from the Recovery Drive as I showed in a previous post: Be ready to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive. The Refresh your PC tool will essentially perform a fresh install of Windows 8. More specifically, when you choose this option from the Recovery Drive, the Refresh your PC tool will find and backup all your data, settings, and apps. It will then install a fresh copy of Windows and restore all of your data, settings, and apps. When your PC restarts, you can login with your exact same username and password and find all of your data.

Now, in its default mode, the Refresh your PC tool does not backup and restore any desktop applications that you have installed. The reasoning is that it is possible that a recently installed desktop application could be the cause of the instability. To help you to remember what desktop applications you had installed, the Refresh your PC tool will create a list of those applications that were not saved or restored, so that you can decide whether you want to reinstall them later.

If you have been reading carefully, you noticed that I used the phrase in its default mode in the above paragraph. The reason is that there is a command line tool that will allow you to create your own custom image that will contain your applications. However, preparing for, creating, and using a custom image is a fairly detailed operation that comes with a couple of potential pitfalls. As such, I have decided that the topic warrants its own article, which I will write for next week.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll take a look at using the default mode of the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. As I do, I’ll explain how it works.

OEM recovery

Before we get started there is one more thing you need to be aware of and that is that the Refresh your PC operation works differently when there is an OEM recovery partition involved. In fact, it appears that each OEM has their own method of incorporating a recovery procedure in the Windows 8 Recovery Drive. As such, I cannot really cover an OEM recovery in this article since there isn't a generic procedure. Therefore, it is imperative that in addition to reading this article, you visit your computer manufacturer's Web site and investigate their recovery procedure for Windows 8 systems.

For demonstrating the Refresh your PC operation in this article, my example system had Windows 8 installed using the clean install procedure I described in the article The complete guide to a Windows 8 clean installation. So there is no OEM recovery partition.

What you need

In order to run the Refresh your PC tool as I'll describe in this article, you'll need to have created a Recovery Drive as I showed you in the article Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 8. You will also need to have your Windows 8 installation DVD.

In case you are wondering

As I mentioned in the introduction, I'm going to cover the use of the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. However, you should know that the Refresh your PC tool can also be launched from within Windows. To do so, you would press [Windows]+W to bring up Search Settings and type Refresh in the text box. You can then launch the Refresh your PC tool.

However, when it comes to performing this type of operation, I prefer to launch the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. My thought process here is that if the system is unstable and I don't trust the way that it is behaving, why would I want to launch a recovery operation from an unstable environment? I just think that it is much wiser to launch the recovery process from a stable environment, such as the one provided by booting your system using the Windows Recovery Environment, which is the platform that boots up the Recovery Drive.

Running Refresh your PC

Running Refresh your PC from the Recovery Drive is easy. While I am booting the Recovery Drive from a USB flash drive, you can just as easily boot the Recovery Drive from the optical disc. (As a part of my research for this article, I ran the Refresh your PC operation after booting from and optical disc and the procedure is basically identical.)

After your system boots from the Recovery Drive and you select the Troubleshoot option from the main menu, you’ll see the Troubleshoot screen shown in Figure A.

Credit: Images by Greg Shultz for TechRepublic.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.